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Body image is a tricky thing for just about everybody. When you’re trying to piece it together again after recovering from an eating disorder, that becomes a veritable mine field to navigate.
With the upcoming holiday season, and my return to Hawaii, it’s going to become an issue that will be at the forefront of my mind. I’ve lost some weight since moving here from Montana* but I remain a size 16, which is a grave sin in the eyes of my mother, who considers any size in double digits to be a failure of self-control and a manifestation of sloven ugliness.

If you’ve ever dealt with someone who was hyper-critical of your weight and your appearance, whether that was a parent, guardian, significant other, coach, or anyone else, you know what it is like to listen to them deride you when you are trying to rediscover a healthy, joyful relationship with food, exercise, and your body. One does try to tune it out, but it still ends up burning into your brain like a scorch mark. It does more to sabotage my efforts at being healthy and happy than all of the advertisements for cellulite cream and slimfast put together. No matter how many times I try to remind myself of the fact that I’ll never please my mother even if I somehow manage to end up with a waist circumference smaller than my head and become a pants size 00, those nasty remarks sizzle and I’m left hopeless.

But I still plan on keeping control over my life and making sure that I don’t lose sight of what really matters, getting a healthy mind and body and developing a relationship with food that is free of guilt and shame for what I do and don’t eat. My resolution to that is to remember that even if I can’t control what my mother says and can’t cut her out of my life, I can control what other voices I listen to and embrace or reject their messages, with my primary objective to listen to the voice of my body above all others.

To that effect, I’ve been reading and re-reading Jan Chozen Bays’ Mindful Eating and listening to the CD accompanying the book every day, uploading the CD onto my iPod and keeping the book in my coat pocket to pull out before and after mealtimes to perform the exercises. Sometimes I get funny looks for it, but an autistic person dating a trans woman tends to get used to people taking a second glance.

It’s a struggle for me to follow the book’s advice in some regards, because I am a full-time student with a work-study job and various odd jobs in between, I find it difficult to devote much time to my meals, but I’m getting better about that. No more eating on the run in between classes, no more eating while doing assignments, no more eating at my desk at work, and no more grabbing quick meals to eat during a long class’s five-minute break. I can’t value convenience over health.

I find the mental exercises to be a lot of fun, especially when it comes to figuring out my bodily responses, since I am a sensory seeker and enjoy the newfound sensations of really tuning into different kinds of hunger one experiences. Since most of the food advice that was given to me before was entirely contradictory and all around restrictive (Eat this, not that! Fat is bad! A glass of juice is like a slice of bread! You need Vitamin B12! Carbs are killer! Gluten/wheat free is the way to go!) it’s incredible to get away from all that and just focus on that inner voice and the voice of the good doc on the CD. It’s helping me improve my impulse control in all areas, not just in what I eat, which is a definite improvement to my quality of life.

Exercise is another tricky field to navigate. I was one of those kids whose parents enrolled them in weight-loss aerobics classes at the gym at the first sign of teen plumpness, and I still remember the mixed stench of humiliation and sweaty towels as I, the youngest student in the class, tried to do the high-paced moves surrounded by women old enough to be my mother. I only agreed to it because I have a fondness for hot, dry air, and was rewarded with a trip to the sauna if I suffered through the aerobics for two hours. I didn’t lose any weight by doing it, because my body put on muscle instead, which weighs more than fat, so it didn’t last more than a year.

Now, I avoid gyms the way a coffee-conscious hipster keeps a wide berth around Starbucks. Using specific machines to exercise strikes me as a curiously dystopian thing, almost like how a badly informed sci-fi/historical fiction writer imagines a vomitorium looked. I’ve instead been going on a lot of walks around Saanich, where I live. It’s mostly farmland in this area, and I get the chance to observe deer, ducks, geese, and the occasional overhead hawk. When I get a break from work and classes, UVic is very close to a park down a rather huge hill, which is a good place to go around, enjoying the occasional sun and constant sea.

Earlier, I talked about choosing which voices to listen to when trying to rediscover my body and mind’s true beauty, and on these constitutionals/runs, nothing motivates me towards a feat of beautiful strength and joy than the sound of Patti Smith singing “People Have The Power”, or other songs on my iPod. For a more structured form of exercise, Jaime and I watch youtube exercise videos for learning how to perform dances and yoga. This is ideal for two autistic people, and ideal especially for us, because the crowding, lighting, and smells of gyms don’t pose an issue, we aren’t scrutinized for using the womens’ room or signing up for classes/using machines which are for some reason heavily gender-coded, and we can go at our own pace. It’s a fun way for us to bond as a couple and for us to stretch our muscles and learn new ways our bodies can ache work. We also don’t have to grit our teeth and deal with an instructor who is body-shaming or peppers their workout routine coaching with tired phrases like “Burn those calories!”

These are only smaller steps in the larger picture of what I am doing to help along the healing process. But I’m proud of myself for having made it this far, and I know it will only lead to better things.

* Honestly in my experience it’s near impossible for me to remain overweight in Victoria, with how many hills there are and the availability of delicious fresh food so close at the Root Cellar, but I think I’ve put in a valiant effort regardless, with all of my pub visits and my deep and unyielding love of eating out at least once a week. *pats belly*